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April 22, 2014

Sox-Yankees: Lester's dominance has carried over from playoffs

SOX: Rookie Tanaka got megabucks while Lester still waiting for his

BOSTON — Jacoby Ellsbury will return to Fenway Park today for the first time since signing a seven-year, $153-million contract with the New York Yankees, but the Ellsbury storyline could easily become overshadowed by the starting pitching matchup.

Red Sox ace Jon Lester starts against Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, who has gone 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA, 28 strikeouts and just two walks in his first three major league starts.

It will be Tanaka’s first ever outing against Boston — and the game has all the makings of a classic Sox/Yanks showdown.

While Ellsbury and Tanaka (seven years, $155 million) are living high after raking in the dough this past offseason, Lester, who is scheduled to hit the free agent market this coming offseason, is in the midst of making an airtight case for his own gigantic pay day.

Instead of publicly venting his frustration over the Red Sox’ recent low ball offer (a reported four years, $70 million), the Red Sox southpaw has chosen to keep his mouth shut and let his pitching talk for him. He has a 2.17 ERA in four starts. He most recently out-dueled White Sox ace Chris Sale last week, allowing just one run while striking out nine and walking nobody over 8.0 innings.

David Ross, who caught that gem in Chicago, said he sees the same intense, focused and dominant Lester so far this regular season that he saw last postseason when the lefty went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts and led the Red Sox to a World Series title.

Last year’s postseason heroics came on the heels of a dominant second half (7-2, 2.57 ERA, 13 starts).

“In this game, confidence is a big thing,” Ross said. “And when you get your confidence, you don’t press as much. You’re able to relax and just be who you are. I think the second half last year along with the playoffs, just gave him (that confidence) after having a bad year two years ago.

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